How is The Scientific Method useful ?

Almost everyone knows what “The Scientific Method” is. But people are often confounded by why it is such a big deal. For example, when you ask people to prove their theories, they come up with a variety of evasive maneuvers to get out of doing so. So, what purpose does The Method serve ? Is it applicable always ? Does it have limitations ?

Francis Bacon
Francis Bacon was one of the first men to describe The Scientific Method

To answer these questions, we must first ask ourselves, should we prefer some courses of actions over others ? If you answered ‘yes, we should’, we must ask ourselves : why ? The people who are dedicated to The Scientific Method cares about these things because they consider that these principles have, and will serve them well in life. If you do not wish to improve your life, there is no reason to care about The Scientific Method, nor will it be the only principle that will improve your life. This much should be pretty obvious, that a certain and strong desire to win is a prerequisite to being interested in the Scientific Method. So with that let us build the case for The Scientific Method.

So my first step is to convince you of the idea that “Efficiency Is Always A Good Thing” *. So the first question is what is efficiency ? Imagine that you want to travel from Mumbai to New York and there are two ways of doing so :

1. Get from Mumbai to Frankfurt and then from Frankfurt to New York ( Flight time 23 hours, Price : $5000 )

2. Get from Mumbai to Sydney and from Sydney to New York ( Flight time 32 hours, Price : $2000 )

Do you have all the information you need to figure out what is the more efficient choice ? Nope. You also need to know what is the motivation. If I tell you that you are Bill Gates, the richest man on the planet, then you will probably chose option 1. On the other hand if you are considerably poorer but don’t mind an extra 9 hours of flight time you may chose option 2.

The most efficient solution is that solution which helps you achieve your goal using the least amount of resources possible.

I wanted to drive home the point that efficiency depends on motivation since at this point a lot of interesting questions can come around. For example, you may ask me if I should only say to my children : “Eat your breakfast”, “Do your homework”, “Go to bed”, “Go to school” in the name of efficiency. The answer is no, since in this case, your goal is to try and be a good parent and a strong parental bond developed at an early age is essential for children to turn into healthy adults. Idle talk is an excellent way to form bonds with other human beings.

The simplest idea here is that there are usually multiple ways to achieve your goal and the most efficient ones must always be picked if you care about winning. With that in mind, I am ready to try to convince you how The Scientific Method is useful to us in real life.

The Scientific Method is useful to us in three slightly different but kind of inter-related ways :

1. Since it helps us predict future outcomes, it allows us to make arrangements that can helps us achieve our goals by spending fewer resources ( efficiency ).

Eg : Consider the transitive property of debt. If Alice owes Bob $100 and Bob owes Carol $100, then it is the same as Alice owes Carol $100. Imagine, if Alice and Carol lives together ( or nearby ) and Bob lives halfway around the world. Without our understanding of the transitive nature of debt, Alice would have to travel halfway around the world, give the money to Bob, then they would both have to travel back halfway around the world, and Bob would have to hand the money over to Carol and then go all the way back. What a waste ! But if we can predict that the outcome of the above action and the outcome of Alice giving the money directly to Carol are going to be the same, then we can just choose that option and save two full globe trots. Bob and Alice can use the money saved to buy a new car, or some new fancy clothes !

2. Being able to predict outcomes also helps us control them. For example, imagine a Civil Engineer studying the effect of force on a material. By conducting tests on smaller quantities of a material if he is able to predict in advance what is the amount of cement needed to build a bridge ( or whether to use steel reinforcements ) or how many columns are needed to support a building, then we can build giant buildings and bridges without having to lose many human lives.

3. Since The Scientific Method helps us improve our probabilities ( all the tips and techniques for doing proper science, such as using double blind experiments, computing the consequence of a law and then comparing it to nature, are used to increase the value of “likelihood” { the term P(E|H) } in the diachronic interpretation of Bayes’ Theorem ) it can also help resolve arguments and convince others.

* It is very important to understand the side effects during your chase for efficiency. For example, in the case of flight routes from Mumbai to New York depicted in this post, if everyone where to get rich and always chose Option 1 ( via Frankfurt ) the company running the Australian airways may go into a loss and the people employed by them may get fired and try to make your life difficult for the heck of it. Naturally the probability of this happening is very low in this case, but they must also be accounted for when you are computing your decision.

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